Public Administration CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Civil Service Commission (CSR 24)

1. It is essential that the Civil Service continues to evolve and develop, so that it has the skills and expertise to support the Government of the day and Governments of the future. To do that, it needs both to attract the best people with the right skills into the Civil Service and to train, and update, the skills of its existing staff. A large part of the Civil Service Reform Plan is about these issues and we welcome it.

2. These are also the issues which are at the core of the Civil Service Commission’s work. We have a statutory responsibility to provide assurance that civil servants are selected on merit on the basis of fair and open competition. We want to see the best people selected at all levels, but that relies on the Civil Service having an up-to-date assessment of the skills it needs now, and for the future; and an internal development programme and external recruitment processes which attract and develop those skills.

3. As independent Commissioners, with senior management experience in the private and public sectors (only one of us has a significant career in the Civil Service), we are well placed to provide external challenge and perspective to Government and the Civil Service. With our role in chairing competitions for senior appointments—there will be over 100 in the year 2012–13—we are keen to provide insight on both best practice, and on the barriers to attracting the best talent. We think those are the key issues in reforming the Civil Service.

4. There are two propositions in the Reform Plan for strengthening the role of Ministers in senior Civil Service appointments which relate directly to the Commissioners’ legal responsibilities and on which we have had discussions with the Government. As we explain later in our evidence, we have responded positively to the Government’s propositions with new Commission guidance. We agree with the Government that Ministers should have a substantial role in the appointment of those at Permanent Secretary level with whom they work most closely. Our new guidance strengthens Ministerial involvement, while safeguarding the Civil Service from personal patronage or politicisation.

5. The proposal on Permanent Secretary appointments, and our response, has opened up a wider debate about political appointments at the top of the Civil Service. While this is understandable, the danger is that it diverts attention from the issues of skills and expertise, which are the key to Civil Service reform.

6. We now turn to the specific questions in the Committee’s issues and questions paper that touch upon the Commission’s responsibilities.

Question 1: Why does the Civil Service need reform?

7. Civil Service reform should never be a one-off event. The Civil Service, like all organisations, should be constantly evolving to ensure it is equipped to meet the challenges of today and the future, and new methods of delivery. However, the immense economic, social and security challenges facing Government, coupled with the reducing resources available for the Civil Service, make it a particularly important time to be stepping up the pace. We are glad, therefore, that the opportunity of a relatively new Government, and a new Head of the Civil Service, has been used to reassess the challenges and set out a new Plan.

8. We believe that a top priority is a clear strategic view of the skills and experiences that are necessary to meet current and future challenges, and detailed mapping of where these exist within the Service, and where there are gaps. Where the gaps are identified, they can be filled by either recruiting those with the necessary skills, or by raising the skills of existing civil servants. The most appropriate mix will vary for different departments and skills clusters. In chairing competitions for the most senior posts in the Civil Service, Civil Service Commissioners do all we can to ensure that there is a proper consideration for what is required for each post now: in the circumstances of today and the anticipated environment of tomorrow. We sometimes witness departments dusting down the job description from the last time the post was filled, with little consideration of what has, or might, change. If we see this then we challenge it.

9. We also encourage departments to involve ministers in drawing up job specifications, so that both ministers and senior civil servants are united behind a common understanding of what is required in skills and experiences for the role to meet current and future challenges.

Question 2: Does the Government’s Civil Service Reform Plan reflect the right approach to the Civil Service?

10.

11. The Commission strongly welcomes the Plan’s focus on building capability by strengthening skills and encouraging the movement of staff between the Civil Service and the private sector. The emphasis on developing and recruiting new skills and experiences to meet the developing needs of the UK, through the five year capability plan, and other actions, should help to ensure that the Civil Service has the skills and experiences it needs going forward. We also welcome the Government’s commitment to preserving a Civil Service with the core values of impartiality, objectivity, integrity and honesty. The Commission believes that these values remain the essential underpinning for a modern, effective Civil Service.

12. There are two specific proposals in the Plan concerning very senior appointments that touch directly on the role of the Commission. We have looked at these proposals closely to make sure that they do not undermine the principles that the Government is committed to uphold.

13. Before we address these in detail, there are two important points about the Civil Service as it is today that are often overlooked. First, the impression is often given that the Civil Service continues to be staffed by people who joined when young and who have pursued their entire career inside it. This is changing quite quickly. More people now join the Civil Service at different stages of their career and leave it, either temporarily or permanently, to work in other sectors. There has been a particular change at senior levels. Civil Service Commissioners chaired 371 “external” competitions between April 2007 and March 2012: competitions at the most senior levels where candidates from outside the Civil Service could apply. Of these, 190 (51%) went to existing civil servants; 111 (30%) went to candidates from the private sector; and 70 (19%) went to candidates from the wider public sector and third sector. This represents a significant movement into the Civil Service from other sectors at the most senior levels.

14. Second, in very recent times there has been a major and very significant change in the practice of recruiting Permanent Secretaries and other senior civil servants. Today these jobs are routinely opened up to external competition so that candidates from outside the Civil Service can apply. Twenty years ago it would have been rare to select a Permanent Secretary through open competition; today it is the norm. Former Cabinet Ministers have been reported as having been closely involved in the past in who to have as their Permanent Secretary; but these would all have been situations in which the choice was from among senior civil servants in Whitehall. When these positions are opened up to non-civil servants then the statutory requirement that recruitment into the Civil Service must be on merit on the basis of fair and open competition becomes a legal obligation on all involved in the selection process.

15. We now turn to the two specific proposals in the Reform Plan.

16. One proposal concerns a small number of time-limited senior appointments that might be made as exceptions to the statutory requirement of selection on merit on the basis of fair and open competition to meet urgent business needs and critical shortages of skills. The Commission has always recognised that there can be critical situations where roles need to be filled at very short notice and running an open competition may not be practical. The Commission’s Recruitment Principles contain a number of exceptions to the requirement of selection on merit that can be used in these situations. A number of senior appointments are made each year using these exceptions and the Commission does not believe it is necessary to change its practice in response to this proposal. However, to assist Government departments to understand the Commission’s approach to these circumstances, and the criteria we apply in considering such requests at the most senior levels, we published a new guidance note in December 2012 ( see Annex A). We hope that this will help to ensure that such urgent requests can be considered and decided as quickly and efficiently as possible. However, it is important to emphasise that such appointees are still civil servants, not political appointees, and must observe the legal requirements for impartiality and objectivity.

17. The other proposal concerns Permanent Secretary appointments, where the Reform Plan proposes greater ministerial involvement. This has been subsequently explained publicly as a proposition that Secretaries of State should be offered a choice between two or more candidates judged by the selection panel to be appointable to the role.

18. After discussions with the Government, the Commission published its response to this proposal on 10th December 2012. As part of its response, the Commission published a second new explanatory note explaining our enhanced approach to Ministerial involvement in Permanent Secretary appointments. This is also attached in Annex A with a copy of the Press Notice that the Commission issued at the time.

19. For the most senior Civil Service appointments the Commission plays a hands-on active role. One of the Commissioners will chair the selection panel to provide assurance that selection to these critical posts has been in accordance with our published Recruitment Principles. The panel considers a wide range of evidence to determine who is the strongest candidate who most closely matches the published requirements for the role. The Prime Minister has the legal right not to appoint the recommended candidate, but neither he nor the Secretary of State may choose someone else. If the recommended candidate is not accepted, then the selection process must start again. At this level no one can be appointed to the Civil Service without the specific approval of the Commission.

20. However, we are strongly of the view that Ministers should play a substantial part in the selection of the senior officials with whom they work closely. In our new guidance on Permanent Secretary appointments we have responded positively to the Government’s proposal by going further than before in describing the role they should play. This includes:

being consulted at the outset on the nature of the job, the skills required, and the best way of attracting a strong field.

agreeing the final job description and person specification, and the terms of the advertisement.

agreeing the composition of the selection panel, in particular to ensure that there is sufficient external challenge.

meeting each of the short listed candidates, to discuss his or her priorities and feedback to the panel on any strengths and weaknesses to probe at final interview.

the possibility of further consultation with the Secretary of State before the panel makes its recommendation.

The selection decision, however, remains with the selection panel, chaired by a Commissioner. We have stopped short of giving Ministers the final choice from a list of candidates.

21. The Committee asks what impact the Government’s reforms will have on the ability of the Civil Service to serve the needs of future administrations, in different economic or political circumstances. We have been very aware of this in responding to the Government’s proposals. As earlier witnesses have pointed out, there is a real danger that if Ministers personally choose their top civil servants then those civil servants will be very closely associated with that Minister. This may impact upon their ability to work with other Ministers in future. The danger is that patronage, of either a political or personal nature, will re-enter the system and the nature of the Civil Service will change. There is a second danger, that senior Civil Servants so appointed may be just a little less confident in providing frank advice that the Minister may not wish to hear. This would not happen overnight, but it would, in the Commission’s view, be a step in the wrong direction. The Commission’s approach seeks to meet the Government’s legitimate wish for Ministers to be involved without stepping over the line to personal or political appointments.

Question 3: How can corporate governance in the Civil Service be improved?

22. While most of the issues addressed in this section of the Committee’s Issues and Questions Paper fall outside of our responsibilities, we would like to address one aspect of the Committee’s third question that concerns the effectiveness of Non-Executive Directors (NEDs) on departmental boards. It is current practice for a non-executive director to sit on a selection panel for the most senior appointments and in our experience they have made a very positive contribution. Most of the recently appointed NEDs have come from the private sector. They provide a different perspective from panel members from within public service and are often responsible for healthy and constructive challenge. They also bring experience of private sector recruitment practices, and the Commission often finds them to be strong allies in focusing all involved on the outcome of selection—the most meritorious candidate from a strong and diverse field—and away from an over-consideration of process.

Question 4: To what extent does the Civil Service Reform Plan affect the fundamental principles upon which the Civil Service has operated since the Northcote-Trevelyan report?

23. The Commission was pleased to see the Reform Plan’s statement that the current model of a permanent, politically impartial, Civil Service was to remain unchanged.

24. The roots of the model of an impartial Civil Service lie in the Northcote-Trevelyan Report of 1854, and it is worth reflecting on what the report actually said. At the time of their inquiry the Civil Service was considered ineffective and inefficient by politicians and the public alike, to a degree that has no parallel today. Northcote-Trevelyan were clear that the reason for this inefficiency was patronage and nepotism; their answer was selection on merit, so that Civil Service post should be filled by those best able to do them, rather than those with the best connections. This was the founding basis of the modern Civil Service. We believe it continues to be relevant today: the scope of Government activity and the skills required to deliver them may have changed enormously, but the principle of selecting the best person for the job on merit is a principle for all time. It is why we continue to argue that merit is best assessed by an independent panel looking at all the evidence, rather than by one individual, whether politician or civil servant.

25. The 2010 Constitutional Reform and Governance Act was of great importance in putting the Civil Service on a statutory footing and codifying the long-standing principles that underpin it. In doing this it gave effect to the last recommendation in the Northcote-Trevelyan Report.

26. In our experience that legislation is working well and there is no evidence of the need for early revision or change. It does not prevent innovative and creative ways of selection, and the Commission has long pressed departments to challenge their thinking and apply the best selection practices from other sectors to Civil Service recruitment. There is nothing about selection on merit that is backward looking or an inhibiter of change or reform. It is essentially about getting the best person for the job to be done.

27. In passing the 2010 Act Parliament was consciously seeking to strengthen the then current arrangements for Civil Service appointments. These are reflected in the Commission’s Recruitment Principles, which interpret the requirement that selection for appointment to the Civil Service must be on merit after fair and open competition, and which were published and adopted before the Act was debated and passed. Several speakers in the debate made this point. It is worth quoting Mr Andrew Tyrie at some length as he perhaps put it most emphatically (our emphasis):

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con)

The clause entrenches the principle of an independent, impartial and permanent civil service recruited on merit. In doing that, we need to recognise that, by comparison with the civil services of many other major democracies, we are at one extreme in our levels of impartiality and impermanence. It is on such issues that I am at my most conservative, and I welcome this triumph of the status quo.

We have had-and to a large degree we still have-a civil service that works. The history books suggest that since Northcote-Trevelyan dealt a blow to patronage, we have been well served by the people who have come into the civil service, and we are still well served. Anybody who has worked there will know the sense of duty, commitment and loyalty that the civil service can show to the Government of the day. There is still such a thing in this country as a public service ethos, and the best of them in Whitehall have it in bucketfuls. If clause 1 makes a contribution to reaffirming that ethos, the Bill will have been worth while. The civil service is an important pillar of our constitution. This legislation will strengthen that pillar, if only a little.

In this triumph of what I have described as the status quo, we need to realise that we are setting aside many other approaches to the relationship between elected Ministers and, on the one hand, Parliament and, on the other, the appointed civil service. One of those approaches, which has often been discussed, would be to make the civil service more directly accountable to Parliament, as the Institute for Public Policy Research has suggested. Another approach, favoured by the think-tank Reform, would be to give Ministers more say over the direction of the permanent civil service establishment. That would take us in the direction of the United States. A third approach would be to keep most of the civil service as it is, but to superimpose at the top a cabinet system in each Department.

Hansard, 3 November 2009 Column 783–784

Question 5: if policy making is to be opened up to external organisations, what is the distinctive role of the Civil Service in the modern world?

28. The Committee asks what are the advantages of a permanent Civil Service compared to a cabinet or spoils system with more political appointees. The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 made important distinctions between civil servants and special advisers. It established in statute two distinct classes of people who would be appointed to support the Government:

(i)civil servants, selected on merit on the basis of fair and open competition under rules laid down by the Civil Service Commission and bound by the principles in the Civil Service Code; and

(ii)special advisers, selected by Ministers personally, appointed for the period of the Minister’s term of office, subject to their own Code as well as the Civil Service Code but specifically exempted from the Civil Service Code requirements of objectivity and impartiality.

29. In the Commission’s view this clear legal distinction in role and function is important and reflects the nearest we get in the UK to a constitutional settlement on the role of the Civil Service. It protects the long held principle of an impartial Civil Service, while recognising that Governments also need support from personal appointees who share their political objectives and philosophy.

30. There are of course other ways of arranging these matters and the UK and New Zealand are probably the democratic systems which do most to safeguard a non-political Civil Service. At the other end of the spectrum is of course the USA where the most senior positions in the administration are all filled by political appointees.

31. It is clear, both from from the way the 2010 Act is constructed and also the debates in Parliament during the passage of the Act, that Parliament intended to uphold the principle of an impartial Civil Service appointed on merit; and established the Commission on a statutory footing to uphold that principle and to act as an explicit check on the power of the Executive to make Civil Service appointments. We do not believe, therefore, that it is in our gift to sign that principle away even if we wanted to do so. The right place to do that, if it is to be done, is in Parliament and through legislation.

32. It seems clear that some work that is now done by the Civil Service will in future be done by other organisations. The boundaries of what is done by the state and what is done by others have always been fluid to some degree; with activities moving in and out of the public, or certainly central government, sphere. In the Commission’s view the question of who should carry out any particular function is of less importance than that those who do it adhere to the public service values of integrity, honesty, objectivity, impartiality. They should apply as much to the service that the citizen expects, as they do to the individual delivering that service. A challenge for the Government is how to ensure that the values stay the same even when the provider changes.

Question 6: Can, or should, employment terms and conditions in the Civil Service ever be comparable with those for posts of similar seniority and responsibility in the private sector?

33. The Civil Service Reform Plan identifies commercial and financial skills as an area that the Civil Service needs to strengthen. In our evidence to the Senior Salaries Review Body in November 2012 we stated that our experience of senior recruitment indicated that while there was no general problem in appointing suitable candidates for senior roles, there were certain job families where current remuneration did appear to be a barrier to attracting strong fields. One of the areas that we identified was for roles that required commercial and financial skills. There is strong anecdotal evidence from search consultants and others that private sector candidates with the required skills were reluctant to move to the Civil Service mid career as the combination of lower pay and the possibility of intense media and public scrutiny was not an attractive one. While the Government may find it difficult to match private sector salaries, we believe that recruitment of significant numbers of candidates with these skills will be increasingly difficult without some greater flexibility in the salaries that can be offered.

Question 7: How effective is the senior leadership of the Civil Service and how does it compare to previous periods?

34. We would only like to comment by reiterating the point that before jobs are advertised there should be a thorough consideration of what is required of the role at this point in time, and therefore what skills and experiences should the successful candidate have. When looking for senior leaders there will also need to be a consideration of what the individual department requires, and what are the corporate needs of the overall Civil Service senior leadership team. If these are pulling in slightly different directions then that has to be faced. The Commission is clear that the best selection decisions are made on the basis of competition with the selection made by an independent panel fit for the task. But whether an individual job is advertised externally, or only within the Civil Service, is a matter that should be decided according to the particular nature of the role. Good external recruitment demands time and sustained involvement by senior leaders. We sometimes see jobs advertised externally where the job description would seem to suggest an internal candidate is more likely to be successful. We also sometimes see the selection process being rushed with inadequate involvement from senior leaders.

Question 9: Does the long-term future of the Civil Service require more comprehensive and deeper consideration and, if so, how should this be done?

35. We are largely agnostic, but perhaps a little sceptical, about the need for a more fundamental look at the future of the Civil Service. The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act, passed with cross-party support in 2010, represented, we believe, a settlement on the position of an impartial Civil Service recruited on merit and able to serve succeeding administrations, single party or coalitions, of whatever political complexion; with alongside that, a number of political advisers, who are appointed directly by Ministers. We have no evidence that this settlement is broken and in our view the task is to make it work better by focussing on the skills and capabilities of the current and future Civil Service. If, however, the political consensus on the current model of the Civil Service has broken down, then there is a case for a comprehensive and deeper consideration, and that would be preferable to piecemeal changes that may undermine the current model. What form this should take is not for the Commission to suggest. We are clear however that any change to the current arrangements for Civil Service selection should only take place if that is the considered will of Parliament.

Civil Service Commission

January 2013

Annex A

CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION

WRITTEN EVIDENCE TO THE PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION SELECT COMMITTEE INQUIRY ON CIVIL SERVICE REFORM

RECRUITING PERMANENT SECRETARIES:

MINISTERIAL INVOLVEMENT

AN EXPLANATORY NOTE

This note explains the Commission’s approach to involving Ministers in the appointment of Permanent Secretaries. It does not apply to other appointments to the Civil Service.

General Approach

Everyone involved in Civil Service recruitment is bound by the legal requirement that selection for appointment to a politically impartial Civil Service must be “on merit on the basis of fair and open competition”. The Civil Service Commission must publish “Recruitment Principles”, which define what this requirement means. These may be found at http://civilservicecommission.independent.gov.uk/civil-service-recruitment/ .

The Principles enable Ministers to have substantial involvement throughout the selection process for senior appointments in which they have particular interest. This helps to ensure that the successful candidate has the confidence of the Minister. Ministers can decide not to appoint the selected candidate, but may not select another candidate in their place; in which case the selection process starts again. Ultimately, the power to make appointments to the Civil Service rests with the Prime Minister.

Appointment of Permanent Secretaries

The Recruitment Principles govern all the most senior appointments, including Permanent Secretaries. In the case of Permanent Secretaries, who are Heads of Department, the Commission has developed these more detailed practices for involving Secretaries of State:

1.Competitions at this level will be chaired by the First Civil Service Commissioner or his nominee. The First Commissioner will ensure the Secretary of State can be fully involved. He will meet the Secretary of State at each key stage, and will be available at any point if the Secretary of State has concerns about the selection process or candidates.

2.The Secretary of State should:

be consulted at the outset by the Head of the Civil Service on the nature of the job, the skills required, and the best way of attracting a strong field;

agree the final job description and person specification, and the terms of the advertisement;

agree with the First Commissioner the composition of the panel, in particular to ensure that there is sufficient external challenge from outside the Civil Service;

meet each of the short listed candidates, to discuss his or her priorities and the candidate’s approach to the role; and feedback to the panel any strengths and weaknesses to probe at final interview.

3.Since the Prime Minister must approve the appointment of Permanent Secretaries, he should be kept informed of the progress of the selection process.

4.It is the responsibility of the panel to assess the merits of the candidates using the best possible evidence, including testing any issues raised by the Secretary of State. It must then recommend the best candidate for appointment to the Secretary of State, who may meet the candidate for a further discussion.

5.Where the panel is genuinely uncertain about the merit order of the leading candidates, it may, before making its recommendation, seek further evidence about which of the candidates’ skill sets most closely matches the needs of the department and the Civil Service. With the agreement of the First Civil Service Commissioner, this will include further consultation with the Secretary of State and the Head of the Civil Service and, exceptionally, a meeting between them and the leading candidates.

6.The panel must then make its recommendation, taking account of all the available evidence, in a report from the First Commissioner to the Secretary of State. That report should record how the Secretary of State’s views have been taken into account.

7.If the Secretary of State is not satisfied that the panel has recommended the best candidate, he/she may ask the panel to reconsider, setting out the reasons. The panel may revise its merit order; the reasons for this must be recorded, and the panel must obtain the approval of the Board of the Civil Service Commission for the revision.

8.Under the terms of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 the final decision whether or not to appoint the recommended candidate rests with the Prime Minister. If he decides not to do so, there will be a discussion with the Head of the Civil Service about how an alternative candidate can be found. This may involve a managed move within the Civil Service, an internal competition, or a new external competition.

December 2012

APPOINTMENT TO SENIOR ROLES IN THE CIVIL SERVICE BY THE USE OF EXCEPTIONS

AN EXPLANATORY NOTE

This note explains the Commission’s approach to the use of exceptions to the legal requirement for recruitment on merit on the basis of fair and open competition for senior roles in the Civil Service.

General Approach

Everyone involved in Civil Service recruitment is bound by the legal requirement that selection for appointment to a politically impartial Civil Service must be “on merit on the basis of fair and open competition”. The Civil Service Commission must publish “Recruitment Principles”, which define what this requirement means. These may be found at http://civilservicecommission.independent.gov.uk/civil-service-recruitment/.

The law gives the Commission the power to except certain appointments from the requirement of appointment on merit on the basis of fair and open competition, where the Commission believes this is justified by the needs of the Civil Service, or for Government employment programmes. These exceptions are described in Annex C of the Commission’s Recruitment Principles. Exception One allows short term appointments up to a maximum of two years to provide the flexibility to meet short term needs.

Departments may apply these exceptions for appointments below Senior Civil Pay Band 2 (Director-level) without obtaining the specific approval of the Commission. All use of exceptions at Senior Civil Service Pay Band 2 and above is subject to the Commission’s specific approval.

The Commission’s Approach to the use of Exceptions for Senior Roles in the Civil Service

The Commission would always prefer recruitment to be through open competition, because this is likely to lead to a better outcome in the long term.

Where this is not possible because of an urgent need, the recruiting department can request that the Commission agrees to a short term appointment using exception one in the Recruitment Principles.

The Commission will consider each request on a case by case basis. There are a number of factors that would make it more likely that the Commission would agree to an exception:

1.There is a clear Civil Service business need.

2.The need is immediate and urgent and it would be detrimental to delay to appoint on merit on the basis of open and fair competition.

3.The skills required are not available from within the Civil Service in the required timeframe.

4.The need is temporary (usually less than a year).

5.There is a good reason why a fair and open competition would not be viable at this point.

6.There is a clear end date; and there are clear succession plans to move to a full fair and open competition quickly, or to transfer appropriate skills to an existing civil servant during the proposed exception period.

7.There will be an attempt at the beginning of the process to establish a field of candidates.

8.Any proposed candidate has the necessary skills and experience for the post.

9.Any proposed candidates will be able to carry out their role in line with the values and behaviours expected of civil servants outlined in the Civil Service Code, including political impartiality.

The Commission may make its agreement to the exception request subject to an interview with the candidate chaired by a Civil Service Commissioner. The interview may be to determine that the candidate has the necessary skills and experience for the role; or to seek assurance that they can carry out their role in line with the values and behaviours expected of civil servants outlined in the Civil Service Code.

December 2012

PRESS NOTICE

CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION RESPONDS TO GOVERNMENT’S REFORM PLAN PROPOSALS ON PERMANENT SECRETARY APPOINTMENTS

The Civil Service Commission—the independent statutory body charged with ensuring that appointments to the Civil Service are made on merit after fair and open competition—has today responded to the Government’s proposal in the Civil Service Reform Plan that Ministers should have a greater role in Permanent Secretary appointments.

The Commission explains its approach to Ministerial involvement in Permanent Secretary appointments in a new explanatory note, published today. That makes clear that the relevant Secretary of State should be consulted at each stage of the appointment process. This includes:

consultation at the outset about the outcome of the job, the skills required and the selection process;

meeting each of the short-listed candidates and giving feedback to the selection panel on any strengths and weaknesses to be probed at final interview; and

possible further involvement after the final interviews, where the panel is uncertain about the relative merits of the leading candidates.

The Commission, however, stops short of allowing the Secretary of State to choose from a list of appointable candidates. The final decision on who to recommend remains with the independent selection panel chaired by the First Civil Service Commissioner. The Prime Minister may decide not to appoint the recommended candidate, but in that case the selection process starts again.

Sir David Normington, First Civil Service Commissioner, said:

“We welcome the Government’s determination to raise Civil Service performance and share its ambition to get the best people into the top jobs. That, after all, is what the legal requirement for selection on merit to a non-political Civil Service is all about.

“We believe this is best achieved, not by the decision of any one person, but by competitions overseen by independent panels, drawing on a wide range of evidence. We agree that Ministers should have significant influence on the appointment of senior civil servants with whom they work closely; and, as more senior jobs are opened up to competition, we have developed a more active role for Ministers in top appointments than is generally understood. This is reflected in the detailed note we have published today.

“We have looked hard at how we might strengthen Ministerial involvement. However, our practice stops short of allowing Ministers to choose from a list of recommended candidates, requiring, as now, that the final recommendation of the best candidate should be made by the selection panel, drawing on all the evidence. In our view this maintains the essential balance between involving Ministers fully in the process, while safeguarding a non political Civil Service, selected on merit.’’

The Commission is also publishing today a short explanatory note on the flexibility which exists within the current legal framework to make short term, time-limited appointments without full open competitions. This responds to a proposal in the Civil Service Reform Plan to allow Departments to make short-term appointments to meet urgent business needs. Such appointments are possible with the Commission’s approval under the existing framework and the Commission does not believe any change is needed as a result of the Government’s proposal.

Prepared 5th September 2013